Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Problems with Movie Criticism, Part 2

 

Fake Christmas movies! In recent years, people we rightly call trolls have taken to calling Die Hard a Christmas movie, partly in jest, but often because they have something against Christmas movies. Like all aggressive jokes in our times, this too is an attempt to assert some kind of dignity by way of fandom. It’s an identity, after all. Well, there was a guy who did that long before trolls and he was the best action-comedy writer-director: Shane Black.

You remember his movies and the great roles they had for men. We wrongly call those “buddy cop” movies:

  • Lethal Weapon (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover–by the way, this is the 30th anniversary of the movie)
  • The Last Boy Scout (Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans)
  • The Last Action Hero (Arnold Schwarzenegger and a boy, in the only genuine fairy tale of our times)
  • The Long Kiss Good Night (Geena Davis, in one of the early femme fatale as action hero roles, and Samuel Jackson),
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Robert Downey, Jr., in his comeback role, and Val Kilmer in what, it turns out, was his valediction)
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Nice Guys (Ryan Gosling, who finally became funny, and Russell Crowe, who, well, did likewise.)

So, I’ve done more than a bit of writing about this Shane Black and ran into a critic talking about his penchant. Black sets all his movies during Christmas. Here, we get another example of the problem with half-educated criticism. Below is a better video than the one I showed you yesterday because it’s much less presumptuous. But it shows the same clever-kid-in-school problem, coming up with pat answers that ignore the movies themselves, which are only mined for some evidence to confirm a fairly mindless thesis.

The critic, however, does one job he’s suited to: a bit of film history. That’s important for genre and stories about manliness. He talks about the Walter Hill aesthetic. The ugliness that shows up as the cinematic indictment of a society that will see no evil. Same as Raymond Chandler … he doesn’t make much of this, because he doesn’t understand the problem of manliness, although anyone who watches the movies he mentions will find it staring him in the face relentlessly.

As for talking about Black, the critic notices two things of importance for these Christmas stories:

  1. Family and the domestic respectability of the holiday are always threatened and sometimes mocked.
  2. People have to find redemption.

But then he screws up everything because he doesn’t want to reflect on how these two elements come together. Instead, he wants to force everything into family. Sure, not nuclear family — but anything like friendship or business partnership can now be called family. That’s a stupid thing to say and a disservice to criticism.

The other stupid thing he says is that Christmas is the biggest holiday in Western Civilization. No, that’s Easter. Anyone who knows even a bit about Christianity would know that — there’s a reason Christians sign themselves with the cross and depict it everywhere. I think this is so obvious that I don’t believe the guy is stupid — he’s just thoughtless about the thing he’s talking about. But Christmas is the biggest holiday for America, just like Santa plays God in public America.

This is tied up very much with Black’s attack on respectability and this sort of fake piety. His manly heroes pose an existential individualistic problem to domesticity. Of course, this critic also says the meaning of Christmas is whatever — his cynical attitude about American consumerism/commercialism and the collapse of the American civil religion corrupts his understanding. Black takes Christmas in America seriously and is a kind of enemy of it because of his seriousness. What he seems to offer instead is friendship between men, which is destroyed by family.

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  1. Skyler Coolidge

    Well.

    Theologically, you are right. The Feast of the Resurrection is more important than Christmas. But any idiot can clearly see that Americans pay a lot more attention to Christmas.

    The rest of this post just seems curmudgeonly. It’s not very clear why you think any of these transgressions are bad.

    • #1
    • December 20, 2017, at 11:25 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    The man is not talking about what Americans pay attention to recently. I would not expect him or anyone else to know that up to the mid-19th c., Americans were not that interested in Christmas. Before the 20th c., it wasn’t the biggest deal in terms of the civil religion/public faith… As for the importance of mentioning Christianity & Easter in relation to Christmas, it belongs to the point of the essay, so I don’t expect it’s of interest to you.

    If you think this post curmudgeonly rather than argued, I can do nothing for you. You’re an adult–you can read–if you didn’t like it, I don’t know why you should reread it.

    But I expect other people are better readers or more interested…

    • #2
    • December 20, 2017, at 11:30 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Skyler Coolidge

    But he’s not making movies in the 19th Century, but in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

    So, I’m asking what the point is? People are allowed different opinions. His movies may be good or bad, but few have been influential or even more than mildly popular. Just what is the complaint? That not everyone shares certain religious views? It’s just not very clear what you’re asking the reader to accept.

    • #3
    • December 20, 2017, at 11:54 AM PST
    • Like
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Skyler (View Comment):
    But he’s not making movies in the 19th Century, but in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

    So, I’m asking what the point is? People are allowed different opinions. His movies may be good or bad, but few have been influential or even more than mildly popular. Just what is the complaint? That not everyone shares certain religious views? It’s just not very clear what you’re asking the reader to accept.

    I think you have me confused. You think I’m objecting to the movie-maker, Shane Black? Or am I misreading you! Those movies were very influential & as for popular–some have been vastly popular. Iron man 3 is billion dollar picture…

    • #4
    • December 20, 2017, at 12:06 PM PST
    • Like
  5. Skyler Coolidge

    Okay, sorry, I thought you were complaining about him somehow.

    • #5
    • December 20, 2017, at 12:11 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Okay, sorry, I thought you were complaining about him somehow.

    No, about the movie critic–while giving him his dues, so far as I can see them.

    No need to apologize–we just misunderstood each other.

    In fact, it’s up to me to apologize–I wish at any rate I hadn’t wasted your time with the post… These are very summary notes on criticism. The thought-out conversations I do on movies are in my podcast on soundcloud. If you’re interested, do take a look.

    All the best-

    • #6
    • December 20, 2017, at 12:14 PM PST
    • Like
  7. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    I am weird. I am not a troll (at least not intentionally) but I do think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie – but from your list – only Die Hard. It has a Christmas sub plot – John MacLean came to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children. Without that plot device he would not have been at the party, there would be no cowboy to save the day. All the action in the action movie springs from Christmas, hence a Christmas movie.

    The rest of your “Christmas Action Movies” just happen to take place in December – or at least the ones Ive seen, I havent seen the last 3 on your list.

    • #7
    • December 20, 2017, at 3:23 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    All the action in the action movie springs from Christmas, hence a Christmas movie.

    I don’t know about that. What I do know is…

    • #8
    • December 20, 2017, at 5:48 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    I am weird. I am not a troll (at least not intentionally) but I do think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie – but from your list – only Die Hard. It has a Christmas sub plot – John MacLean came to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children. Without that plot device he would not have been at the party, there would be no cowboy to save the day. All the action in the action movie springs from Christmas, hence a Christmas movie.

    The rest of your “Christmas Action Movies” just happen to take place in December – or at least the ones Ive seen, I havent seen the last 3 on your list.

    Ok, but not so fast–why couldn’t the same Die Hard action have the guy visit the family for a vacation! Or any other reason not to do with Christmas!

    Not even family reunification requires Christmas.

    It just makes more sense at Christmas, because that’s how things work in America. It’s all about domesticity & coziness…

    • #9
    • December 21, 2017, at 1:34 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    As for the other movies, I think the argument is negative. Christmas is all about family for most; but what about for those who don’t have it? Then it just makes everything worse for them, because they’re not in on the celebration. That heightened loneliness & existential despair is the key-

    • #10
    • December 21, 2017, at 1:38 AM PST
    • 1 like
  11. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    I am weird. I am not a troll (at least not intentionally) but I do think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie – but from your list – only Die Hard. It has a Christmas sub plot – John MacLean came to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children. Without that plot device he would not have been at the party, there would be no cowboy to save the day. All the action in the action movie springs from Christmas, hence a Christmas movie.

    The rest of your “Christmas Action Movies” just happen to take place in December – or at least the ones Ive seen, I havent seen the last 3 on your list.

    Ok, but not so fast–why couldn’t the same Die Hard action have the guy visit the family for a vacation! Or any other reason not to do with Christmas!

    Not even family reunification requires Christmas.

    It just makes more sense at Christmas, because that’s how things work in America. It’s all about domesticity & coziness…

    You’re right. It could have taken place on the July 4. Considering the movie was originally released in July – that could’ve worked just as well. But the movie was set at Christmas.

    !Spoiler! ::

    I often thought that when the boss got shot in the board room “Good! Thats what you get for scheduling a company Christmas party on Christmas Eve!” … I often wondered if that wasnt a bit of xenophobia – having a Japanese boss schedule a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, as if he didnt understand the family obligations of his American employees. If my company where to schedule a party on Christmas Eve, it would be the smallest event ever.

    • #11
    • December 21, 2017, at 9:10 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    I am weird. I am not a troll (at least not intentionally) but I do think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie – but from your list – only Die Hard. It has a Christmas sub plot – John MacLean came to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children. Without that plot device he would not have been at the party, there would be no cowboy to save the day. All the action in the action movie springs from Christmas, hence a Christmas movie.

    The rest of your “Christmas Action Movies” just happen to take place in December – or at least the ones Ive seen, I havent seen the last 3 on your list.

    Ok, but not so fast–why couldn’t the same Die Hard action have the guy visit the family for a vacation! Or any other reason not to do with Christmas!

    Not even family reunification requires Christmas.

    It just makes more sense at Christmas, because that’s how things work in America. It’s all about domesticity & coziness…

    You’re right. It could have taken place on the July 4. Considering the movie was originally released in July – that could’ve worked just as well. But the movie was set at Christmas.

    !Spoiler! ::

    I often thought that when the boss got shot in the board room “Good! Thats what you get for scheduling a company Christmas party on Christmas Eve!” … I often wondered if that wasnt a bit of xenophobia – having a Japanese boss schedule a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, as if he didnt understand the family obligations of his American employees. If my company where to schedule a party on Christmas Eve, it would be the smallest event ever.

    I think you’re right about the anger at foreigners–it’s the 80s, Japan & West Germany were supposed to be the future, overcoming America, so it’s likely not an accident that the evil guy is German & the boss Japanese. It also makes it easier to kill him off…

    Dunno about the other part–the movie shows at least as much individualist abandon as family. Might not be untrue about L.A. professionals in that line of work…

    • #12
    • December 21, 2017, at 1:53 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    I think you’re right about the anger at foreigners–it’s the 80s, Japan & West Germany were supposed to be the future, overcoming America, so it’s likely not an accident that the evil guy is German & the boss Japanese. It also makes it easier to kill him off…

    Dunno about the other part–the movie shows at least as much individualist abandon as family. Might not be untrue about L.A. professionals in that line of work…

    You could be right about life in the big city, families are supplanted by c0-workers and friends.

    I honestly hadnt thought of Hans Goober as evil foreigner, I mostly thought of him as a cop out. I think he should have been some stripe of Jhadi. Even if you keep the robbery plot (the robbery being used to fund terror, rather than a retirement) Which would really better explain their desire to kill everyone. Than just a disaster to cover an escape, that seemed kinda weak.

    • #13
    • December 21, 2017, at 11:57 PM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    It’s very strange. You cannot have a really evil villain–or there’s no happy end.

    On the other hand, this villain who turns out to be a bit of a loser, he is willing to kill for his own purposes.

    So he turns out to be evil, after all, but not in an obviously mad way. It’s just that what he learned from the world situation is slaughter for profit.

    The genius of the evil in this case is what a silly thing–money–is covered in such horror–blowing people up. It’s a reversal of the common attitude implied so well in the phrase, your money or your life!

    • #14
    • December 22, 2017, at 1:22 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Judge Mental Member

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    I honestly hadnt thought of Hans Goober as evil foreigner, I mostly thought of him as a cop out. I think he should have been some stripe of Jhadi. Even if you keep the robbery plot (the robbery being used to fund terror, rather than a retirement) Which would really better explain their desire to kill everyone. Than just a disaster to cover an escape, that seemed kinda weak.

    Disagree with this part. The robbery plot is clever because he knows they will assume he is a terrorist, and react accordingly, which is integral to the plan.

    • #15
    • December 22, 2017, at 3:52 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    I honestly hadnt thought of Hans Goober as evil foreigner, I mostly thought of him as a cop out. I think he should have been some stripe of Jhadi. Even if you keep the robbery plot (the robbery being used to fund terror, rather than a retirement) Which would really better explain their desire to kill everyone. Than just a disaster to cover an escape, that seemed kinda weak.

    Disagree with this part. The robbery plot is clever because he knows they will assume he is a terrorist, and react accordingly, which is integral to the plan.

    The clever part was that the bad guys knew how the police would respond to a hostage taking. The motivation of the crime (ie terror or a bank job gone wrong) wasnt really relevant.

    Also its one of the few films that cast Police management and FBI in a poor light. Going back to the propaganda efforts of Hoover, the FBI usually gets pretty favorable treatment from Hollywood.

    • #16
    • December 22, 2017, at 10:12 PM PST
    • Like
  17. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    While not a “Cop/Buddy” pic, there is one Christmas crime film that should be added to the list. “The Ref” with Dennis Leary and Kevin Spacey. A fantastic film, and I think this is Dennis Leary’s best film. (although its close with “Suicide Kings”)

    • #17
    • December 24, 2017, at 10:47 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    While not a “Cop/Buddy” pic, there is one Christmas crime film that should be added to the list. “The Ref” with Dennis Leary and Kevin Spacey. A fantastic film, and I think this is Dennis Leary’s best film. (although its close with “Suicide Kings”)

    I agree. It’s pretty hilarious. The story of a man who thinks to violate privacy & gets more than he bargained for when he is introduced into it. A screwed-up guy who wanted to take for granted that other people are not, & are therefore scared. It turns out normal people can be really screwed up, too, because they’re human, too, & no better at it than most others…

    • #18
    • December 27, 2017, at 1:56 AM PST
    • 1 like
  19. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    While not a “Cop/Buddy” pic, there is one Christmas crime film that should be added to the list. “The Ref” with Dennis Leary and Kevin Spacey. A fantastic film, and I think this is Dennis Leary’s best film. (although its close with “Suicide Kings”)

    I agree. It’s pretty hilarious. The story of a man who thinks to violate privacy & gets more than he bargained for when he is introduced into it. A screwed-up guy who wanted to take for granted that other people are not, & are therefore scared. It turns out normal people can be really screwed up, too, because they’re human, too, & no better at it than most others…

    Yea, I hadnt really considered it from that point of view. He’s almost disappointed that this “Norman Rockwell-esque” family is almost as dysfunctional as his own was.

    Sometimes its fun to think of the characters of the movie, and wondered what they did the next day. I think she wrote a book about it, and she and her husband ran a marriage consoling service based on the experience of being tied up together – you know 1 part tough love, 1 part empathy, 1 part locked room. But it wouldn’t be a licensed recognized form of therapy. Like anything she does it would only be partly planned, only partly executed, and mostly doomed.

    • #19
    • December 27, 2017, at 10:45 PM PST
    • 2 likes

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